Howls & Whispers


Let’s imagine it’s my 43rd birthday and the pandemic is over. After turning 40 on Zoom one week into the first lockdown, 41 in a chilly park with friends eating cupcakes in distant clusters and 42 burned out on Omicron and upgraded to KN95s, I’m going to do it up this year. It’s going to be a costume party. I’ll be dressed as love—decked out in chain mail of scratched mix CDs and Trader Joe’s roses, fried chicken and cupcakes, bacon and kale. All the guests will be invited to eat their favorite foods right off my clavicle. It’s going to be hot. Once we light the bonfire of face masks and signs reminding us to stay 6 feet apart, once it flames up high enough to singe eyelashes and catch the tips of branches, once we get to dancing, I’m going to take it all off. I’ll carefully remove the skirt I made of my daughter’s preschool drawings, the leggings crafted from treasure maps and pocket knives, the headdress of rain in the desert and miles of clouds. All I will need now is skin, body, this body, your body, our bodies. There will be sweat and spit, and we will luxuriate in the mess of other humans and we will touch. For hours and hours, we will touch.

In my thought experiment this becomes an orgy or a riot, but let’s be real, we might be a little afraid of skin by 2023. We might be ready to collapse. There will probably be tears. Where have we been, these three fucked up years? Who remembers how to touch anyone outside their household anymore? Who remembers dancing close enough to breathe each other’s breath and feeling no fear? Who forgets the textures and smells of desire, grief, fingertips and nostrils, bare cheeks and uncovered lips? What has this pandemic done to us?

Perhaps the idea of wearing love to a party is far too decadent for these times and I need to love wisely instead. Perhaps love is creating space for ritual. Perhaps I will celebrate my birthday by holding a collective howl, perhaps we must shake and scream as we take the masks off our children, off ourselves, before we will be ready to celebrate. Perhaps the birthday gift I’ll request is other people to hold my child, to hold every parent’s children. We are all so tired after these years when nearly no one was willing to get close to our kids because they went to school and might be vectors of disease. Perhaps love means all the parents get to lie down for a few months, become still on the earth and do nothing, nothing at all, while the rest of the missing village steps in. Perhaps love means we all become quiet together, quiet but close, lighting candles, whispering prayers, incanting spells, close enough to hear each other, to feel the heaviness and the light.

Perhaps love needs to become more political now. Perhaps love is making sure all the disabled and chronically ill folks who’ve been hiding out for three years get to leave their homes and set the public health agenda. Perhaps love is making space for legitimate rage at our astonishing failure to practice interdependence and collective care. Perhaps love is holding space for elders to gather, gather, gather.

Perhaps love means we get to talk about something other than pandemics and catastrophes now, perhaps we get to organize for liberation and climate justice, perhaps that is the party; having a potluck, writing a manifesto, together, on the same earth we are ready to save.

Perhaps this has all gotten too grandiose. Perhaps I just have a party. Perhaps we need that more than anything right now. Perhaps there’s cake and paper plates, a few balloons, and the miracle is that it feels safe and obvious to eat together inside. Perhaps I do dress as love, and keep it simple, hearts and chocolate, cupids and valentines. If that doesn’t feel special enough, I could always wear the earth’s astonishing love—a constellation of seedlings reappearing after snow, the first sunrise beyond a hurricane, an array of healed scars.

Jacks is a queer writer, artist, healer and troublemaker living in Santa Fe. Find out more at

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